Our bodies are an internal wonderland of magic and experience. The watery world of skin, bone, muscle and tissue creates channels and cavities of resonance, and together with the functional systems made of vacuums and pumps, we are a perfect instrument for channeling vibration. It is through these systems, both physical and subtle, that we have been gifted the senses of touch, taste, sight, sound, balance and intuition.
Navigating through the city-scapes of today, however, can be like an assault to our inner world. Being in the unnatural world of jackhammers, police sirens and pollution forces us to shut down our senses, and over time, our precious faculties are dulled. Left unattended, the subtlety, richness and magic of perception is lost.
In yogic philosophy, all sounds in the external world are ‘struck’ (ahat). Two things come together and an audible sound is heard. One of the ancient texts of yoga, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, states that samadhi (enlightenment) is attained when the unstruck (anahat) sound can be heard. Some say the aim of yoga is to hear this soundless sound.
Nadam means sound, and the energetic channels in the body that carry sound currents are called nadis. The yogi is one who is interested in perfecting their ability to listen. We practice listening to great music, to the sound of our breath, and even our own voice. Through movement of sound through the nadis, the other sensory organs are awakened as well: touch, taste, sight, even intuition is based on energetic vibration.
The three main nadis are the ida, pingala and shushumna (moon, sun and empty channels, respectively). Ida and pingala cross like a double helix around the shushumna, forming the chakras, or energy wheels that are in part responsible for moving energy through the body. The nadis and chakras, in conjunction with sound vibration act like a tuning fork to our entire being.
Richard Freeman says that “attention is the most basic form of love”. When we are attentive to our own sound vibration, through the things that we say, and more subtly, the things that we think, we are brought into conscious sound making – we can literally make music with our thoughts.
The language of Sanskrit, beyond being a tool for communicating ideas, is a language of vibration. The mouth, connected to the windpipe, lungs and diaphragm (and subtle systems of nadis and chakras), becomes the instrument. When we take the time to use our whole mouth in a variety of ways, we bring attention to intention, to being specific.
One interesting aspect about Sanskrit words are the enormity of meaning they carry. This, in part, is because when strung together, words blend together. In other words, one word, plus another word, can make yet a third. This blending is often at the discretion of the speaker, making it a creative and rich world of interpretation. What is more, when words bump up next to each other, not only does the meaning change, but so does the way the words sound – their vibration.
There is much discourse on whether it is important to chant proper ‘Sanskrit’ when chanting, or whether it is the intention behind the chant that is most important. Like the Sanskrit itself, my belief is that is up to the discretion of each individual to investigate the blending of attention and intention, integrating the two together within themselves to create our own unique vibration we each are capable of making, that becomes our manifest interpretation of mantra (crossing the mind through repetitive chanting).
The Sanskrit language turns the palate into Shiva’s drum; when ‘played’ with awareness and intention, the bones of the head start to vibrate, waking up the nervous system, gently rocking the oceanic visceral world, and altering our consciousness. In the void, we can better hear the anahat – the vibration of silence.